Where care matters more than a card
New Canadians, ineligible for insured services, rely on the medical lifeline of the CCRIHC's Free Clinics
CCRIHC was the first volunteer medical clinic in Canada dedicated to refugees and immigrants. In 1999 a borrowed church basement in a Toronto suburb became home to a new and innovative kind of refugee and immigrant health centre. A clinic operated by a handful of volunteer doctors, nurses and community members began providing free healthcare to newcomers to Canada who found it difficult, often impossible to obtain the medical treatment they needed. Many refugees and immigrants have to wait before they receive access to Canadian public health coverage. The wait can be years.
Where a clinic in a church basement began two decades ago a seventy-member volunteer interdisciplinary medical, dental and social care team with staff in a modern clinic now provides humanitarian medical care and assistance to those new to Canada who find themselves sick and medically uninsured.
“To provide humanitarian medical treatment and assistance to those new to Canada who find themselves medically uninsured and precariously insured“
“All newcomers to Canada receive the healthcare they require, unstintingly, and without judgment of their circumstances”
Who We Help
of those we treat are female
of visits are to uninsured, precariously insured children and youth new to canada
of our patients are new Canadians seeking pregnancy care
Newcomers uprooted from their home, their country by circumstances beyond their control gather their children and flee. They suffer horribly again on treacherous refugee journeys. Forced into migration they have lost everything – parents, children, spouses, homes. They have suffered war, religious and gender-based persecution, torture, trafficking, kidnapping and diseases. Anxiety, depression, nightmares, shame, and guilt have taken hold, stolen their confidence and futures.
When they arrive here they ask one thing from us….. our permission to start again, to build a new life, to succeed and call Canada their home.
Canada has a long proud history of lending a helping hand to newcomers who need one, refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers less fortunate through no fault of their own. The drive, resilience, and determination of refugees and immigrants to make better lives for themselves and their families has helped Canada prosper and become one of the most admired and successful societies in the world. Those new beginnings become ever more challenging when newcomers are faced with an illness and turned away for medical care.
Despite Canada’s best intentions, the reality is that many newcomers often fall through the cracks in our healthcare systems and immigration policies
Frequently changing rules and policy barriers have confused providers and newcomers, making it difficult to know who qualifies for care and who does not? Hundreds of thousands needing basic and urgent medical, dental and psychosocial care are turned away Newcomers are among the most vulnerable people in Canadian society.
Our patients are victims of Canada’s Healthcare system and immigration policies.
In 2013 estimates placed the number of medically uninsured and precariously insured in Canada at over half a million persons . The numbers have continued to increase.
Each day our volunteer team and staff help as many of them as we can. Seventy percent are women and children. Fleeing genital cutting and mutilation is common. Government resettled refugees are frequently turned away for medical care by doctors and clinics who won’t accept their Canadian Federal Health Insurance coverage. Refugees making claims for asylum in Canada are often caught in healthcare limbo without any health insurance when claims are denied or interrupted. New Permanent Residents accepted by Canada must go without healthcare access for 90 days. Sometimes they break an arm, get a fever, find a lump in their breast. Medical bills are astronomical. New beginnings end.
Many find their way to our volunteer-driven medical, mental health and dental clinics at The Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Healthcare in Toronto. Each day our volunteer teams and staff help newcomers who need medical care and support. Healthy children are better able to play and learn. Healthy adults are better able to contribute socially and economically to Canada’s future. Healthcare plays a vital role restoring their hopes, dignity, and resiliency.
“You don’t look like an emergency” - anonymous healthcare staff, 1999, Toronto area Emergency Department
What happened to Aisha was more like torture than healthcare. Despite working part-time off the grid to finish high school, saving enough to enter nursing College, Aisha was not Canadian enough to be treated. Withholding healthcare to another human in pain and gravely ill contravened all medical morality and ethics. For Aisha it was child abuse.
We discovered in 1999 there were thousands of newcomers like Aisha in our community — refugees, immigrants living, working, going to school but denied access to healthcare when they were ill. We could find no studies describing this problem.
We came to the realization that if it was Aisha’s job to get herself to safety, to Canada, to put herself through school, to become a nurse, then when she was sick it was our job to treat her. And if there was no clinic that would accept her for care it was our job to build one.
In 1999 Our first clinic opened with 3 volunteers in a borrowed church basement. We treated 17 uninsured newcomers. Twenty years later from a modern medical community clinic 70 volunteer nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, dentists with allied provider support staff provide medical, dental, mental health, and social care to newcomers caught in medical limbo and still falling through Canada’s health and immigration system policy cracks. Over 50,000 visits for care and counting.
What we saw shocked us. How could this happen in Canada?
What happened to Aisha was more like torture than healthcare. Despite working part-time off the grid to finish high school, to save enough to enter nursing College, when she was sick Aisha was not Canadian enough to be treated. Withholding healthcare to another human in pain and gravely ill contravened all medical morality and ethics. For Aisha it was child abuse.
We set out to determine if there were others like Aisha in our community. Our review of the Canadian scientific literature revealed no studies describing uninsured newcomers. Our environmental scan soon revealed there were thousands like Aisha — refugees, migrants living and working, going to school in our communities, but denied access to healthcare.
We came to the realization that if it was Aisha’s job to get herself to safety, to Canada, to put herself through school, to become a nurse then when she was sick it was our job to treat her. And if there was no clinic that would accept her for care it was our job to build one.
In May 2000 after 6 months of planning, our first clinic opened with 3 volunteers in a borrowed church basement. We treated 17 uninsured newcomers, like Aisha that evening. Twenty years later from a modern medical community clinic 70 volunteer nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, dentists with allied provider support staff provide medical, dental, mental health, and social care to 20,000 newcomers caught in medical limbo and still falling through Canada’s health and immigration system policy cracks.
Each year, CCRIHC’s volunteers provide more than $1 million in direct medical and dental care to New Canadians – care that the system turns away. When reduced ER visits and hospitalizations are considered the savings are higher.
Public Health & Public Safety
We saved Toronto Public Health over
As the numbers of displaced migrants throughout the world continue to rise, and we see these effects ripple through our clinic.
You can plays a vital role in restoring their hopes, dignity, and resiliency for long-term success in Canada
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They are nurses, social workers, doctors, mental health counsellors, dieticians, nurse practitioners, administrators, community members. They do not judge their patients or question their immigration status or their ability to pay.
Board of Directors
Community Advisory and Collaborators
Dr. Paul Caulford
MSC. MD CCFP FCFP
A family physician in Scarborough since 1979, Doctor Caulford is recognized for his advocacy, medical care and health equity initiatives on behalf of refugees, all immigrants new to Canada and other vulnerable and marginalized populations.
Ms D’Andrade is a public health nurse in Toronto with a long and recognized history of providing grassroots, street level health care to the homeless, marginalized and refugees in the Greater Toronto Area.
Dr. Amanda Morel
Dr. Amanda Morel is a British-qualified dentist and periodontist. After moving to Canada in 2007, she re-certified and is currently practising in Toronto. Dr Morel is Dental Director at the Urban Dental Clinic and founder of Filling the Gap Dental Outreach.